Can we and should we complete research sustainably?
I've been thinking about this for a while now and still I've never had the conversation with anyone. I pride myself on caring about all three aspects of sustainability: economic, social and environmental. There is of course research that addresses each of these topics, for me I am finding the environmental part the most difficult to address whilst completing my research (not environmental-related). However, it seems to be something that gets pushed to the bottom of the priority list when it compromises efficiency or "the way things are" or even that things like waste are inevitable when creating and testing hardware. This is something I struggle with and in research I find that I have much less control over that in my own personal life.
I get uncomfortable seeing the many papers that are printed off for people to read once and then thrown away, participant information sheets and consent forms. I have tried to limit my printing and paper use throughout my PhD - I haven't ever printed off a paper to read, I do it all on screen, It was an adjustment definitely but it was doable. I remember during my time as student representative during my undergraduate studies, there was a huge push back from faculty members when students petitioned to submit their dissertations online rather than having to print and bind 2 copies at their own cost. This was also the case for essays and work that was mandatory to complete on computers, because faculty didn't want to be reading on screen (with no acknowledgement of students having to work on screen).
Other things, though feel like they aren't so possible: I'm working as part of a team to create new hardware which inevitably involves waste, or we work with clinicians to create equipment used only once and then it's thrown away (because of the research needs). Or how about conferences? Only in this past year have they routinely become virtual and even then I think most would agree that it's not the same for networking and events in person. In the pre-COVID world, it was the norm to fly across the world maybe a couple of times a year for conferences and I would guess that this will return when it can.
I wonder whether I am only seeing the negatives and that I am under-appreciating the trade-offs that need to be made. Do you consider sustainability when you do research, is it even possible to complete your research effectively by doing so?